Harvest moon shinin’ down from the sky…is there anything in the heavens that causes more legends, rituals and myths on earth? It is an awesome sight, to be sure, hangin’ low and smoky just over the horizon…and it’s those awesome sights that for millennia have gotten the human sensibilities churning!
Intriguingly, when we see that sight…along about October…it’s the same time of year we can see red-wine grapes portentously hangin’ low on the vines.
And, appropriately…it is the wine from those grapes that has its own collection of legends, rituals and myths.
So before you start hiding your white wines from that harvest moon, and breaking out your reds…I offer a list of five red-wine myths that may just rock your wine-drinking world.
#1: WHEN THE WEATHER TURNS COLDER, IT IS TIME TO DRINK RED WINE
Well, if you like to think of your wine drinking as being in some kind of lock step with the universe…go right ahead! For me, however…I find myself ignoring this whole seasonal wine thang with great regularity. I’d dare to say that most serious wine-drinkers feel the same way. If someone’s opening a 1959 Chateau Latour in the summer, what am I supposed to say? “No thanks, it’s July?” I drink all kinds of red wine in the summer. Sure, if what I’m looking for is refreshment on a hot day, I’ll throw back super-cold white wine like nobody’s business. But most wine-drinkers look for more than refreshment out of wine…we look for deliciousness in the right wine with the right food. Steaks and chicken and sausages on the grill? Yes, you could drink white with those things—but backyard BBQ from spring to autumn gets my red-wine juices flowing above all! And then, in the solemn hush of red-wine winter…when the best-of-year lobsters arrive in January…am I supposed to drink a Merlot? Pas du tout! Gimme dat dry Riesling! To me…that’s the height of my own personal “white-wine season!”
#2: RED WINES ARE SUPPOSED TO AGE
Well, there’s no doubt that most of the best-aging wines in the world are red wines. But that’s looking at it from the wrong end, say I. It’s really only a small percentage of red wines that get better with time. Of course…they all change with time, going from dark-and-purple to light-and-brown. But are they better once they pass through the young, dark-and-purple stage? Many are not. This is where some expertise comes in handy; a good wine merchant should be able to tell you what’s worth drinking once it gets past 1-2 years old.
#3: ONLY BIG, DARK, TANNIC REDS ARE WORTHY OF YOUR ATTENTION
If your only source of wine information were big wine publications like The Wine Spectator, or The Wine Advocate…you might well think this erroneous thing! The problem is…the press is always touting the famous, high-tannin, high-alcohol red wines. The wine media is usually programmed to believe there’s something superior about these obscenely expensive wines. There’s not! And the American media point of view does not prevail in traditional red-wine regions, as in Europe. Wine-drinkers in those places mostly drink light, delicious reds. Yes, they are always looking for good examples of light, delicious reds. But the only times they look for the big, expensive ones are for holidays, special occasions, etc.!
#4: YOU NEED THE VERY TANNIC REDS TO CUT THROUGH THE RICH MEATS OF WINTER
Most of our wine textbooks say the same thing: the fat of a good steak (or lamb chop, or pork roast, etc.)…is cut by the tannin of big red wine. So eating a steak, the theory goes, requires a big, tannic red. But it turns out that this is one of the great wine myths of all time! In his groundbreaking 2013 book Why You Like the Wines You Like, Master of Wine Tim Hanni blows the whistle on this myth. After much research, he demonstrates that tannin doesn’t make a difference in this regard: only SALT ameliorates things! I myself prefer bigger, darker reds with meats that are very long-cooked, like stews (where much of the fat has been rendered out!) With rare, fatty steaks…I like either light young reds, or gentle aged reds (both low in tannin).
#5 RED WINE IS THE IDEAL PARTNER FOR CHEESE
No no no no no! Red wine is often bad news for cheese, particularly soft and/or runny cheeses. Red wines with these cheeses can have their stuffing knocked out of them, can end up tasting flat and/or harsh. White wine is a better try with cheese…and sweet wine (white like late-harvest Riesling, or red like Port) is usually the best of all!
Lastly, there’s always 2012 Les Cliquets from Opi d’Aqui.
This red wine is one of my few red-wine imports, selected precisely because it runs against the grain of most big-wine reds imported into the U.S. If you could try it (and, by the way, it’s selling like hotcakes in NY restaurants!)…you’d see in the glass most of the things I discuss above.
Let’s review those myths…
#1: No one could ever turn away the lightness and exquisite fragrance of Les Cliquets just because the thermometer is above 70 degrees outside! Of course…it’s just as delicious in the winter…
#2: In my opinion, the 2012 Les Cliquets from Opi d’Aqui in the Languedoc will age; I think in 5 years or so it will offer some ethereal aromas and flavors. But it is super-delicious right now as well. And here’s the thing: it’s not a wine that, technically, is supposed to age. Why not? Principally because of the way it’s made—carbonic maceration, long known to American drinkers as the process behind Beaujolais. Right away, that makes Americans believe there’s something non-age-worthy about the wine. T’ain’t so! Good Beaujolais can age, and this wine—made from 100% Grenache grapes in the Languedoc—can age as well. I love the current aromas…cherry, licorice, eau-de-vie…and I love its lightness, freshness, lack of significant tannin. But it’s balanced on the head of a pin, and will go on for years.
#3: Les Cliquets is NOT a big, dark, tannic red…but everyone who tastes it falls in love with it. It’s a perfect demonstration of why lighter reds can be just as intriguing as bigger reds.
#4: Put the soft-tannin 2012 Les Cliquets against a roast leg of lamb, next to a young, tannic Cabernet from Napa Valley…I wager that you, like me, will far prefer the former wine! Because of its profile and balance, it goes so well with many foods. Even the rich meaty ones! This is a perfect bistro wine, with so much pleasure in it.
#5: Well, I’m not going to tout the 2012 Les Cliquets as a perfect red wine for cheese…there really are none…but it is the kind of red that goes well with harder, older cheeses. Chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano are good, as is moderately-to-well-aged goat cheese.
Red harvest moon photo courtesy of Fox41blogs.typepad.com